As Twitter develops and the numbers using it increases, businesses and individuals are finding new opportunities exist within those 140 characters. It is not just about telling people what you have had for breakfast, or for promoting your business through endless tweets. The social network can have benefits as a way to start conversations, and those conversations can develop and move from the Internet into face-to-face daily life.
This can be seen with the networks that are being established particularly those involving local police officers. These neighbourhood officers in many locations across the UK are using Twitter to make links to their local community. The feeds range in the quality and content but can be educational, reassuring, informative and even social. But what makes a good hyperlocal Twitter feed? What information can help these many officers, and other public sector workers, make the most of their new tool for communication and engagement?
From reviewing some of the many neighbourhood police officer tweets I have distilled it into my top 10 tips to get the most from your efforts.
1. Make it relevant
If you are trying to gain followers from a particular geographic area then make sure you provide reference points within your tweets. It means that your messages will have a relevance to the people living in that neighbourhood or who may have a connection to the area. If you are near a local landmark then say it because those living nearby will be immediately interested.
2. Make it timely
The great thing about Twitter is how it is increasingly becoming the place where news breaks. So if you have something to say to the people in your area then say it straight away. Don’t tell them about a burglary problem the day after it has happened. If you have made arrests or have done something to make the area safe then say it as soon as you have done it. People can then retweet your message and spread the word about what you have achieved immediately.
3. Make it frequent
Once you start a conversation with your community then you have to continue it. Twitter is full of accounts where someone has started with a ‘getting to know Twitter’ message that is then never followed by any more messages. In making the conversation frequent it doesn’t have to be every day, but it needs to be clear on glancing at the account that it is active and currently being used.
4. Make it honest
A Twitter feed used only as an extension to the public relations strategy will not stand the test of time. It will be seen as a cynical way to manage communication rather than an honest conversation between people. The statements have to be from the person themselves there is nothing worse than celebrities who have someone tweet on their behalf or the very corporate tweets.
5. Make it useful
Information is always better when it is useful. Telling someone details that will change their behaviour or give them something they can do is always more beneficial. This may be about making them aware of criminal activity taking place in their area, or it could be just reminding them about key crime prevention advice. Don’t allow your tweets to be open to extensive questions, make sure that they are answering the questions that people in your local area may have.
6. Make it a conversation
This is part of the issue of ensuring Twitter doesn’t just become a thing for the public relations officers. This isn’t about using social networks to broadcast information, it is about starting conversations with key people. For the local use of Twitter it has to be seen as a way of striking up a conversation that can be continued on a regular basis. It is a two-way thing – so it is essential to reply to mentions and any questions that are published.
7. Make it clear
Having only 140 characters should keep the mind really focused when writing tweets. One of the worst things is people who constantly use TwitLonger and other tools to extend the word count. Stick to the key elements of Twitter and ensure you stay within the 140 character limit. Because there are only a few words available it is essential to keep it simple so the message is really clear.
8. Make it a source of information
For local police officers Twitter provides an excellent way of circulating information to the network. This may be details of when the next public meeting will be or even where patrols may be taking place. It could also be a way of offering people the opportunity to have local officers to meet them and provide key advice. While people want to have tweets that have a personal element they don’t want too many that say ‘I am having breakfast’ or ‘off duty today’.
9. Make it friendly
Every form of communication has its own conventions , its own rules and norms. For Twitter it is about making it personal and having a direct form of communication. It isn’t something that you can easily describe. What it does need is for the person who is going to use it to step inside and get a feel for what the rules for the network are. It is not good to look from the sidelines you have to get involved and be aware that it is an education when you first start to tweet. For organisations that encourage staff to use Twitter it is important to view it as an extension of your work persona and to make the comments personal.
10. Make it happen now….
Conversations are taking place on Twitter all day every day right now. For many organisations, and police forces, they are not prepared to step in and let staff start to take some control of the communication. Others are sitting on the sidelines watching and hoping that at some point they may feel comfortable, or have the relevant rules in place to step into social media. As the hours and days pass all they are doing is missing the opportunities that are there; those opportunities to extend communication and support local neighbourhood officers who are trying to make communities safer. The simple tip is to start it now and not to get left behind.
The use of Twitter to support local teams such as police officers can provide huge benefits. It puts ownership and responsibility into the hands of frontline staff but that takes a lot of trust and confidence in those staff from the senior management. What it can do is highlight some real stars that exist within the workforce.
An example for me is Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Ben Scott who tweets under the name @gmpdidsbury. He was one of the first local officers that was given the opportunity to use Twitter. At the moment he has almost 400 followers and has drawn praise for being able to alert people to events as they happen. A recent tweet was:
“We have had three burglaries in Withington tonight, please remember to lock doors and windows and report any suspicious activity/people”
Never mind the local crime maps that have just gone live…this is the kind of information that can have a direct impact on people’s lives. For those in the area they can be extra vigilant and protect themselves as well as report anything they see. It is a way of really understanding what is going on in your neighbourhood.
It is great to have someone on the frontline that can really show how to use the new social media. They can support others to do it. And although these frontline staff may not get it right all the time if they get it right 90 per cent of the time then it will reap rewards. Just remember the simple tips and then start to enjoy connecting and go hyperlocal with your communication. If you are a communication manager then be prepared to give control to those on the frontline.